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Living with Alzheimer's disease

Jim Ruppert, a former school counselor and family therapist, appears vital and talkative. But at 58, he's already been living with Alzheimer's disease for four years. NBC's Robert Bazell talks to him about his experience.

Jim Ruppert, a former school counselor and family therapist, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years ago. He is 58 and has a form of the disease that strikes early in life.

But the common concept of Alzheimer's is not one of somebody who is as vital and talkative as Jim Ruppert. What's going on here?

“I think,” he explains, “the public thinks about people in the hospital bed or, you know, getting lost, which they do in advanced-stage. I'm still in the first stages of the disease.”

But already, just to function around the house, Ruppert, with the help of his wife, Vicky, continually writes notes and makes voice recordings to try to remember the smallest details of life.

“I can go from one end of the house and decide something I need at the other end of the house,” he says, “and unless I repeat it in my head or out loud, I forget.”

And after awhile the forgetting is apparent even in conversation.

Is he glad to know the diagnosis?

“You really don't have a choice with the disease, just in terms of, you know, forgetting 50 times a day what you're doing,” Ruppert says. “Sometimes it gets really frustrating. And ... I forgot your question. I didn't get around to answering it.”

Ruppert and his wife traveled for much of their lives and they want to squeeze in as much more as they can in the time remaining.

What do they fear most?

“Being in a nursing home,” Jim Ruppert says, “not being able to tell somebody that I need to go to the bathroom. Not being able to put on my own clothes.”

“I don't really look at it as far as fear is concerned,” says Vicky Ruppert. “I will do whatever I have to and I will keep Jim at home as long as I can.”

But they both know they will be lucky if he can stay at home another two years.